Monthly Archives: April 2021

“I Did It My Ways” by D’yan Forest and Stephen Clarke— Funny, Serious and Everything Else

Forest, D’yan and Stephen Clarke. “I Did It My Ways: An 86-year-old stand-up comedian’s lifelong journey from prudish Bostonian to scandalous Parisienne, and beyond…”, PAF, 2021.

Funny, Serious and Everything Else

Amos Lassen

Before I read D’yan Forest’s “I Did It My Ways”, I had never heard of her but I feel like I know her now. In the book she takes us into her life or better said, lives. She has been a desperate Boston housewife, a New York night-club singer and a Paris swinger, the only Jewish girl in a Christian choir and the female pianist in a transvestite cabaret. She has taught basketball, piano and sex education and dated Paris’s second-ever female bus driver, a transsexual rock guitarist and a defrocked nun. She was able to get German friends to visit Nazi concentration camps while pursuing her own journey to understand why her European relatives were killed Today, Forest is 86 years old and she still works as a stand-up comedian and musician but that is only a part of who she is.

Reading this is like sitting down for a cup of coffee with a good friend who reveals bit-by-bit, the story of the experiences, the ups and downs, the pleasures and disappointments of life without holding back. From the first page I was drawn into this amazing life as I read about love, family, romance, divorce sex and estrogen.

So how is that a nice Jewish girl becomes an international entertainer? That is just what this book is about. I am sure that her Boston family had no idea about who D’yan Forest was to become. She knew about anti-Semitism having grown up during World War II and she also knew that she was not the kind of woman who would become a housewife yet she got married, nonetheless. It was a different time back then. Moving on from the marriage, the world opened for Forest and her story really begins.

I really loved being able to laugh and to weep as I read but more than that, I loved being entertained as I devoured every word. Forest dared to do what many of us only dream of, exhibiting “chutzpah” that only she has to answer for. To be able to beautifully write down all she has done is a gift and each page is like opening a new present that is filled with surprises. In fact,  enjoyed this so much that I am going to make it a part of my annual reading list and reread it often. In fact, if this review seems a bit short, it is because I am going to stop writing and begin rereading it right now.

“Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth” by Now Tishby— Understanding Israel

Tishby, Noa. “Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth”, Free Press, 2021.

Understanding Israel

Amos Lassen

Having lived in Israel for many years and having been an active member of Israel politics and society, I am not embarrassed to admit that there is so much that I do not understand about the country. I have read countless books, watched many documentaries and engaged in conversations with other Israelis trying to figure out what I do not understand and to this day, I am still searching for answers. I must say that in “Israel”, Noa Tishby helped me understand things a bit better, opening the door on many questions I have. While there is still a lot that remains enigmatic, I have a clearer idea of the Israeli mind.

Tishby gives us apersonal and concise chronological timeline that goes from Biblical times to the present that explores Israel. Even with its tiny size, Israel is a hot issue that seems to be debated constantly. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about Israel but not many people actually know the facts. Through her irreverent voice, Tishby goes straight to the issues and gives us an accessible look at Israel. Shechronicles the  evolution of the country, looks at the establishment of the State and covers the issues that divide Israel and many of us. She examines popular misconceptions and presents facts and critical context about controversies  and provides an account of Israel. As another critic stated this is an “anti-textbook” and not the kind of history book that we usually get. We get a crash course on Israel in witty, straightforward and authentic prose. Through the personal story of her family, we get a different look at Israel as told by someone who knows how to tell a story.

“A Whole World: Letters from James Merrill” edited by Langdon Hammer— Selected Letters

Merrill, James. “A Whole World: Letters from James Merrill”, edited by Langdon Hammer, Knopf, 2021.

Selected Letters

Amos Lassen

The selected correspondence of the brilliant poet, James Merrill, one of the twentieth century’s last great letter writersandone of the foremost American poets of the later twentieth century. He was the winner of two National Book Awards, the Bollingen Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and the first Bobbit Prize from the Library of Congress. He published eleven volumes of poems, in addition to the trilogy that makes up The Changing Light at Sandover, as well as two plays, two novels, a collection of essays and interviews, and a memoir. He was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

James Merrill did not keep a journal and said that  his letters “have got to bear all the burden.” He was a vivacious correspondent who wrote eagerly and often to family and lifelong friends, American and Greek lovers, confidants in literature and art about everything that mattered. He wrote about “aesthetics, opera and painting, housekeeping and cooking, the comedy of social life, the mysteries of the Ouija board and the spirit world, and psychological and moral dilemmas”. His personal nemesis was the ambivalence he lived with and it became “the very stuff of my art”.

Merrill’s letters are his daily chronicle of love and loss and they are self-critical, full of gossip, and filled with irony and detail. We see the voice of the poet through his letters.

“MAKING SENSE”— THE FIRST FILM TO STAR FIVE ACTORS WITH DISABILITIES

“MAKING SENSE”

 THE FIRST FILM TO STAR FIVE ACTORS WITH DISABILITIES — 

EACH OF WHOM LACK ONE OF THE PRIMARY SENSES —

PREMIERES ON ALL LEADING DIGITAL PLATFORMS & VOD

ON APRIL 27, 2021

 

“An action-packed journey that’s a cross between 

Stranger Things” and Back to the Future” 

— Renee Fabian, The Mighty

 

Making Sense spins an entertaining yarn and 

gives audiences a thing or two to think about.” 

— Chris Melville, Idaho Mountain Express

 

MAKING SENSE is the story of an aging neuroscientist, who teams up with a group of young graduate students to prove his hypothesis that individuals with disabilities hold the key to unlocking a sixth sense, before his past catches up with him. In an effort to prove his decades-old hypothesis that individuals with disabilities–those he describes as “sensory enlightened”–hold the key to unlocking a sixth sense, aging neuroscientist Dr. Frederik Amberger seeks out a promising graduate student, Jules Christopher. At the risk of alienating her partners in the University lab, and driven by her own complicated past, Jules gets caught up in his quest. When it’s revealed that Amberger has been hiding a secret that has him on the run from the FBI, Jules and team must decide how far they’re willing to go in their pursuit to unlock the next frontier of human sensory experience. 

 

The first film to star five actors with disabilities who each lack of one of the primary senses — sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell — MAKING SENSE features Richard Klautsch and Jessi Melton in lead roles. Klautsch, who plays Dr. Fredrik Amberger, is a veteran stage actor, having acted for 21 seasons at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. Melton starred in several short, independent films before landing the role of Jules in an open audition that drew over a hundred actors. Five acting newcomers play supporting roles, representing the five physical senses. Mike Barnett (Sight), Taylor Gonzalez (hearing), Miguel Ayala (taste), Makenzie Ellsworth (touch), and Nyk Fry (smell) were cast after open auditions were held. 

MAKING SENSE was directed, co-written, and produced by Gregory Bayne. MAKING SENSE was co-written and executive produced by Doug Cole, an advocate for inclusion for those with disabilities and co-founder of the charity IncludeAbility, Inc. Michael Vickerman, Jesse Cordtz, Christian Lybrook also serve as producers. 

“Summer of Stolen Secrets” by Julie Sternberg— Secrets

Sternberg, Julie. “Summer of Stolen Secrets”, Viking Books for Young Readers, 2021.

Secrets

Amos Lassen

Catarina is a city girl who spends the summer in the South and learns the secrets of her estranged extended family in Julie Sternberg’s “Summer of Stolen Secrets”. Her grandmother who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana who always been a mystery to Cat and when she gets the chance to visit her for three weeks, she is anxious to meet the strict grandmother she has never known.

Cat begins working at her grandmother’s luxury department store with her rebellious cousin Lexie. Nothing seems to be going right and Cat notices that no one talks about the past and she is dismayed and wonders if you made the right decision to embark on this trip. But then, she learns about  a secret from a time her grandmother refuses to speak of and Cat’s summer, and everything she thought she knew, changes. This is a story aboutthe power of forgiveness that proves it’s never too late to start over.

Being from the South and specifically from Louisiana, I love the way Southern life is examined here and how Cat attempts to know her grandmother and her

Jewish heritage. Her grandmother had cut off contact after Cat’s father married a Christian woman. Cat’s Jewish heritage was a mystery to her until she discovered secrets her family has long kept about Safta’s escape from Nazi Germany.

Sternberg uses her own story as a basis for this book. She grew up in Baton Rouge and worked in her family’s store that was bought by Sternberg’s grandparents after fleeing Nazi Germany. She reflects on family dynamics, Jewish identity, and the effects of the Holocaust through generations.

“Thinking about Good and Evil Jewish Views from Antiquity to Modernity” by Rabbi Daniel Allen— Why Evil 

Allen, Wayne Rabbi. “Thinking about Good and Evil Jewish Views from Antiquity to Modernity”, Jewish Publication Society, 2021.

Why Evil?

Amos Lassen

Rabbi Wayne Allen’s “Thinking about Good and Evil’ examines Jewish ideas about why innocent people seem to suffer, why evil individuals seem to prosper, and God’s role in such matters of (in)justice, from antiquity to the present.

Beginning with the Bible and Apocrypha, we look at the Talmud; medieval Jewish philosophers and Jewish mystical sources; the Ba’al Shem Tov and his disciples; early modern thinkers such as Spinoza, Mendelssohn, and Luzzatto; and modern thinkers such as Cohen, Buber, Kaplan, and Plaskow. Each chapter analyzes individual thinkers’ arguments and shares their collective ideas on the nature of good and evil and questions of justice. We see divergent Jewish thinking about the Holocaust: traditionalist, revisionist and deflective views.

The conclusion includes Jewish answers as to why there is evil in the world and why human beings suffer through well-known, obscure, and novel Jewish solutions to the problem of good and evil. The nature of evil is the most vexing question posed for not just Jewish faith but for all religious faith and for generations, thinkers have struggled with it. Here is comprehension, scholarship, accessibility, and originality in looking at sources that have been overlooked or ignored, because they have never before been translated into English. We see the many answers to our most difficult question of why God allows evil to exist in the world.

“The Gayborhood: From Sexual Liberation to Cosmopolitan Spectacle” edited by Christopher T. Connor and Daniel Okamura— The Loss of Collective Identity

Connor, Christopher T. and Daniel Okamura, editors.“The Gayborhood: From Sexual Liberation to Cosmopolitan Spectacle”, Lexington Books, 2021.

The Loss of Collective Identity

Amos Lassen

“The Gayborhood: From Sexual Liberation to Cosmopolitan Spectacle” examines the experiences of LGBT+ persons in an era of heightened visibility. Gay urban enclaves, (gayborhoods) illustrate the evolution of LGBT+ political capacity building. Since they began to emerge after World War II, gayborhoods have homogenized at the expense of women, transgender, and nonwhite persons due to neoliberal policies promoted by urban planners. Their popularization and economic vitality correspond to a loss of collective identity and space for some inhabitants. While gayborhoods were once diverse and inclusive spaces that rejected normative institutions of marriage and assimilation into dominant society, the stakeholders have now aligned themselves with conformity and profitability to legitimize their existence. The contributors in “The Gayborhood” reflect on the future of LGBT politics and look beyond the commercialized aspects of gayborhoods and look at the communities and aspirations within.

“False Witness: A Novel” by Karin Slaughter— A Thriller

Slaughter, Karin. “False Witness: A Novel” , Harper, 2021.

A Thriller

Amos Lassen

Leigh Collier is an up-and-coming defense attorney at a prestigious law firm in Atlanta who has worked hard to build a normal life.  She will do anything for her sixteen-year-old daughter Maddy, and is able to successfully co-parent through a pandemic after an separating from her husband Walter. However, Leigh’s ordinary life hides a childhood “tarnished by secrets, broken by betrayal, and ultimately destroyed by a brutal act of violence.”

One Sunday night while she is at her daughter’s school play, Leigh gets a call from one of the partners who wants her to defend a wealthy man accused of several counts of rape. Though wary of the case, she doesn’t have much choice if she wants to keep her job.  When she meets the accused, she realizes that it’s no coincidence that he’s specifically asked for her to represent him.  She knows him and he knows her and he may know what happened over twenty years ago, and why Leigh has avoided her past for twenty years.  

 Leigh realizes that she has a lot more to lose than this case. The only person who can help is her younger, estranged sister Callie and she does not want to drag into this after all they’ve been through.  But she has no choice…

Karin Slaughter’s novel is set on the backdrop of  contemporary American social and political issues. We the impact of the pandemic and the country’s drug crisis in her portrayal of 37 year old heroin addict, Callie, a child gymnast and cheerleader who deals with a broken neck, constant back pain and sexually assault by a Buddy Waleski, a pedophile for whom she minded his 10 year old son, Trevor. 

Callie buried the past through using drugs; Leigh is trapped in a cycle of self-sabotage and guilt. Now, 20 years later, Leigh is a defense attorney, separated from her beloved husband, Walter, and missing her daughter who is staying with her husband. Leigh, her family, and Callie are to find themselves in danger when Leigh finds herself representing wealthy sexual predator, a rapist client, 33 year old car salesman and manipulative psychopath, Andrew Tenant, who turns out to be a grown up Trevor intent on destroying all their lives, knowing what happened to his father and now facing kidnap and sexual assault charges.

Slaughter’s characters are beautifully drawn and larger than life. Through them she  gives a damning indictment of male behavior when it comes to young girls and women, the sense of entitlement, the daily sexual harassment, stalking, the pedophiles, child abuse, brutal sexual assaults, domestic violence, and murder.

“How Y’All Doing?: Misadventures and Mischief from a Life Well Lived” by Leslie Jordan— Happenings in the Life

Jordan,  Leslie. “How Y’All Doing?: Misadventures and Mischief from a Life Well Lived”, William Morrow, 2021.

Happenings in the Life

Amos Lassen

In “How Y’all Doing”, Emmy Award-winner Leslie Jordan shares stories about in a series of essays.He makes us laugh and lifts our spirts at a time when this is just what we need.

 During the start of the pandemic Jordan was “hunkered down” with his family in the South. In this collection of stories from his life we get a look into his life before and during the pandemic.

We laugh and learn a lot about Jordan in this somewhat autobiography.His stories from his past show us what kind of person he is. The stories are connected by Jordan’s Southern charm and former Southern Baptist sass. whether he writes about his Southern Baptist upbringing in Chattanooga, Tennessee or shares stories about his military father who died when Jordan was just 11-years-old, Jordan can be wildly flamboyant and achingly vulnerable at the same time. He seems surprised by the fact that he has millions of Instagram followers who are, no doubt, drawn to his engaging personality and transparency and very open about his ongoing recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. He is also queer and unashamedly so. 

“LAST GASP”— A Hotel in the Jungle

“LAST GASP”

A Hotel in the Jungle

Amos Lassen

When Leslie Chase (Robert Patrick) builds a huge hotel in the jungle of Mexico, he is watched with suspicion by a local tribe. His workers are suddenly killed according to old tribe rituals; Chase lets his ties with the Mexican government play out. causing a massacre among the indigenous people. One of them escapes and attacks Chase the next evening. When he kills the Indian, an ancient curse is placed on Chase.

Six years later, Chase begins a construction project in Pennsylvania and again some of his workers disappear without a trace. One of these is Nora Weeks’ friend and so she hires a private detective to find her loved one. The detective gets too close to the secret of Leslie Chase very quickly, thus putting Nora is also on the hit list of the cursed.  

From the start, we know who the killer is and why he does the things he does. We can also figure out where the film is going. The film never succeeds in building up tension yet the plot of “The Last Gasp” is told in a competent and straightforward manner. There are horror elements but the story is a too predictable.